Buono to Christie on NJ Transit: "Man Up"

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NJ Governor Christie's Democratic opponent says he needs to "man up" and take responsibility for a host of issues -- including getting to the bottom of what happened to New Jersey Transit's trains during Sandy

State Senator Barbara Buono raised the issue of New Jersey Transit's storm losses during Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate, in part to illustrate what she says is the governor's tendency to cast blame elsewhere.

"Anytime somebody points to the hole that we're in with our economy, in lightning speed he points to his predecessor, he points to Democrats," Buono said. "Just recently he pointed to a low-level New Jersey Transit employee. And the fact is, Governor, you have to man up. You've been in office for four years. It's time to own your record and defend your record."

(Watch a video of the debate below. Buono brings up NJ Transit at around the 24:30 minute mark.)

Buono was referring to Christie's comments last week, when he told The Record a low-level civil servant had flouted NJ Transit's hurricane plan and moved trains into the Meadows Maintenance Complex without properly vetting that decision up the chain of command.

But Christie's comments contradicted an earlier explanation from NJ Transit chief Jim Weinstein, who had said the agency thought the MMC would be safe from flooding. (The Record also pointed out that NJ Transit doesn't have civil service -- and that internal emails showed over a dozen people knew about the decision.)

Later in Tuesday's debate, the governor pushed back.

"What the public has a right to know is what really happened," Christie said. "Now if what we want to do is just scapegoat people for the sake of scapegoating them, we could do that. And that's typical politics. We're not going to be engaged in that."

He added that in the chaotic days surrounding Sandy, "there were some mistakes made along the way, and some good things done as well. I'm not going to scapegoat people who weren't responsible for what happened. Now the fact is, we found the folks who are responsible, he's been demoted, and we're moving on. If someone wants me to do a public hanging, I'm not going to do that."

But Buono wasn't satisfied. "There should be an investigation," she said. "And the governor has scapegoated someone -- he scapegoated a mid-level NJ Transit employee who is singularly supposed to be responsible for moving all these trains to a swamp, when we know in fact from newspaper reports that there were many emails  indicating that those higher-up did take responsibility, or were involved in that decision. It strains credulity. But we need to have a full accounting -- just like we need to have a full accounting of why those two lanes were closed going from Fort Lee over the George Washington Bridge and the Port Authority's executive director, Mr. Foye, said it was unexplained, he ended it, and he said he thinks it was illegal. We need a full accounting of that as well."

(Buono was referring to allegations that Port Authority lane closures were politically motivated.)

The head of the New Jersey Assembly's Transportation Committee has vowed to hold a hearing on NJ Transit.

The next debate between Buono and Christie is Tuesday, October 15.